A few years ago there was a bed bug infestation in the northeastern part of the US. I know, eeeeewww. There was so much coverage in the media, it was hard to miss: “Beware of the permanent visitor! Bed bugs are coming to get you!!” I admit, I fell victim to the hype.
These little critters have always freaked me out. From hearing the phrase as a child “don’t let the bed bugs bite!” to now as an adult witnessing the madness they bring, I cringed with each new story I heard about. I especially hated this one: a friend of so-and-so got bed bugs, had their apartment fumigated and then a month later, they’re baaaack.
It was strange; all of a sudden I became obsessive about checking where the bed bugs were concentrated, and I avoided those places at all costs. This included crowded malls, movie theaters, New York City altogether and other dark busy venues (they don’t come out in light, after all).
I thought about them somewhat regularly; this little bug had taken over a small corner of my sanity. And for those of you who don’t know me, I’m not an alarmist. I’m an easy going girl, but I built my own crazy fort of fear.
It held me back in ways that I am almost too embarrassed to say. I avoided going to the movies for two years ( yes two years! And I love going to the movies!) I panicked about staying in hotels because who knows who was there before me and what they brought with them? I checked my own bed pretty regularly for any signs of infestation. It was madness, I tell you.
It got me to thinking: was this a real fear?
When I dug deeper, I realized my fear was about those bugs taking over my apartment and not being able to get rid of them. I realized it wasn’t so much about the bugs but it had more to do with my ability to take care of myself and fear of failure.
You see, I love my apartment. It’s a one bedroom haven nestled on the third floor of my building, surrounded by trees– a proverbial treehouse. It’s quiet, I have a loft and I can paint there. It’s easy to have friends over for drinks if I want. It represents everything I love about my life–simplicity, joy and fun. It has given me the space to explore, grow and become more myself.
As I looked at the situation from this point of view and realized it wasn’t about the bugs per se, but more about my fear of loss, I relaxed a little. I began to see how absurd the whole thing looked, but acknowledged that it was a normal fear, just disguised by the bugs. (It also made me more more compassionate towards those with OCD or anxiety disorders. I can’t imagine the pain of living like that all of the time.)
So as I talked myself off of the ledge and rationalized that none of my friends or relatives had gotten bed bugs, that the haunting stories were always from the media + ‘people-who-knew-people’, I slowly let the fear dissipate.
I realized I had never even seen a bed bug in person. My gripping fear now looked silly to me.
I saw how this pretty irrational fear was holding me back from living my life and from fully enjoying it. I was worrying about a scenario that hadn’t happened and probably wouldn’t. Can you relate?
To move forward, I used my fear as fuel. I stopped looking at media about the critters. If anyone started talking about them around me, I would change the conversation. I stopped giving my energy away. I sent love to my apartment and I tamed my monkey mind of obsession. And you know what? It worked.
Even if that bug fear pops up a little now and then in my psyche, I remind myself that it’s not about the bugs, it’s about being able to handle what life throws my way. I can handle it.
I stopped wasting time and energy on something that I couldn’t control and it has made all the difference.